Petal couple escapes Gatlinburg fire during Thanksgiving vacation

PINE BELT, Miss. - The death toll continues to rise in Tennessee following the largest wildfire to hit the state in 100 years. A Petal couple, Rick and Gerry Morrison tells FOX 23 news their experience.

Officials said at least 11 people have died and there are still others unaccounted. The inferno destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Rick and Gerry Morrison said they take their yearly trip to Gatlinburg around the holidays, this visit was different, they did not know if they would make it out alive.

“About 7:30 that night, we went out to eat, we were pretty close to downtown Gatlinburg, and as we drove in several of the places that we wanted to go to, we saw stores were closed.”

They detoured towards Pigeon Forge and as they turned a corner, they saw parts of Gatlinburg in flames. Both agreed to hurry back to the cabin to rescue their two dogs.

Both said the road back was still clear of any flames. “Moved a lot of tree limbs, stopped along the way and as fast as we could started throwing things in bags, we knew we had to get out of there" said Gerry.

Their cabin was on a valley in between two hills that were caught on fire. Rick said minute-by-minute he was examining how fast the fire was spreading. Gerry and Rick said they knew it was more serious when their power went out.

“We finally went in the car and left, and we went back the way that we had come, the first time when we came in, and at the time we came in there was nothing" said Rick.

He continued, "It was nice clean roads, but going back out you can see glows on the hill.” They said it only took 45 minutes for that same road to start catching on fire.

Gerry and Rick said they were scared as it took them 3 hours to evacuate the town, which should have only taken 30 minutes.

“The police department stopped us from going the way we wanted to go, telling us that the other two-thirds of the way back into town was totally engulfed in flames" said Rick.

Gerry said, “We saw a van, with the sheriff going door to door getting people out and putting them in the van.”

She said by chance and a higher power, this was the first time she booked the cabin on the valley instead of the two hills that caught on fire around them.

“Really in the end, I felt that God looked out for us, because had we not have that cabin, we could potentially not be having this conversation" said Gerry.

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